Saturday, January 30, 2010

Heather's Birthday Celebration

Last night we celebrated our friend Heather's birthday. The Current, MPR's local music station, was celebrating its 5th birthday with a concert at First Ave., and since Heather's birthday was on Thursday this was the perfect combo birthday party. We ate dinner at Pizza Luce before hand then headed over to First Ave for the show. There were five bands: Twilight Hours, Lookbook, Mason Jennings, P.O.S. and Solid Gold.

Heather's B-Day Celebration

The Current's B-Day Celebration

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chocolate Cake Cookie Sandwiches

On Sunday night we headed over to Heather's to see if the Vikings could pull it off and beat the Saints in the NFC Championship game and play in the Super Bowl for the first time in my lifetime. Unfortunately for Vikings fans, they lost in overtime by a field goal. Patrick, a dedicated Green Bay Packer fan, was thrilled as he predicted a Favre melt down in the NFC Championship game the day Favre signed with the Vikings last August. The cookie sandwiches tasted pretty good. I think that next time I would try to make them a little thinner, since these were too thick to easily take a bite of.

Chocolate Cake Cookie Sandwiches

Chocolate Cake Cookie Sandwiches


For the cookies:
1 package chocolate cake mix (or other flavor of your choice)
1 egg, at room temperature
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature

For the frosting:
3/4 cup butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp. milk

For decorating:
multi-colored non-pareils, or other sprinkles or candy of your choice


To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the cake mix, egg and butter. Beat on low speed until just combined and all dry ingredients have been incorporated.

Roll the dough into 1- to 1 1/2-inch balls, place on the prepared baking sheets and press down to slightly flatten.

Bake for 8-10 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool completely on the cookie sheets.

To make the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the powdered sugar, and beat until incorporated. Add vanilla extract and beat on medium speed until fully incorporated. Add 2 tablespoons of milk and beat on medium-high speed until smooth. If the frosting too thick, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of milk and beat until incorporated.

To assemble, pair the cookies based on size on a work surface. Frost the flat side of one cookie from each pair. Place the other cookie of each pair on top of the frosting, flat side down. Lightly press down so that the frosting reaches the edges of the cookies.

To decorate, place sprinkles in a small bowl. Dip the sides of each cookie in the sprinkles, pressing down gently and rotating to cover the sides completely.

Source: Heather Drive

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cooking Castle Style - Pork Tenderloin and AuGratin Potatoes

On Friday night Kate & Kasie came over for their first official cooking lesson. A couple months ago they asked if we could give them cooking lessons and tonight was the first time it actually worked out to get together. It was a lot of fun. Kate requested pork tenderloin as the main entree, so that is what we based the meal on. Patrick and I have talked about making au gratin potatoes for a few months, so I figured this was a great opportunity to make those. Patrick marinated the pork loins in the normal array of sauces and spices: soy sauce, balsamic vinegar salad dressing, lime juice, stone ground mustard, chili sauce and salt and pepper. Although the meat was very good, I think the favorite was the potatoes. I guess you can't really go wrong with potatoes and cheese.


Pork Tenderloin with Mustard Sauce

2 Pork Tenderloins, Trimmed Of Fat
Salt And Pepper, to taste
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
¼ cup whole grain mustard
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons reduced fat sour cream

Preparation Instructions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Generously season pork tenderloin with salt and pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy, oven-proof skillet over high heat. Sear tenderloin on all sides, using tongs to move it around. Remove pan from heat and place in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until thermometer inserted registers 155 to 160 degrees. Set pork on a cutting board to rest.

Using the same skillet add both mustards, the sour cream and any accumulated pork juices from the plate; whisk over medium heat until heated through (do not boil). Add water if the sauce is too thick. Slice the pork; serve with the pan sauce.

Mustard Sauce Source: Everyday Food Cookbook

Pork Tenderloin & AuGratin Potatoes

AuGratin Potatoes

4 whole Russet Potatoes, Scrubbed Clean
2 Tablespoons Butter, Softened
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 cup Milk
2 Tablespoons Flour
4 cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 teaspoon Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper, to taste
2 cups Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Freshly Grated
Dried or fresh parsley

Preparation Instructions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Smear softened butter all over the bottom of a baking dish.

Slice potatoes, then cut slices into fourths.

In a separate bowl, whisk together cream, milk, flour, minced garlic, salt, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

Place 1/3 of the potatoes in the bottom of the baking dish. Pour 1/3 of the cream mixture over the potatoes. And then layer with a ½ cup of cheese.

Repeat this two more times, ending with the cream mixture. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are golden brown and really bubbling. Add 1 cup grated cheese and chopped parsley to the top of the potatoes and bake for 3 to 5 more minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Allow to stand for a few minutes before serving by the spoonful.

Source: Pioneer Woman

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Indian Chickpeas in Tomato Cream Sauce

On Wednesday night we were going to go to open volleyball, so that doesn't leave much time for making dinner. Usually we resort to Chipotle or something simple like sandwiches. I thought I would try a simple meal that would also result in leftovers for lunches the next couple days. This was a perfect week night meal. The ingredients are simple and since there is no meat so you don't even have to remember to unthaw the meat the day before. The sauce reminded me of a pre made version of curry that we have been buying for a couple years now. In the future, we will probably just be making our own sauce since this was pretty simple.

Indian Chickpeas

Indian Chickpeas in Tomato Cream Sauce

Two cans chickpeas, drained & rinsed
1 ½ cups tomato sauce
1/3 cup whipping cream, at room temperature
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
½ Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. Asian chili garlic sauce
1/2 tsp. curry powder
½ tsp. ground cumin

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook 2-3 minutes.

Add chickpeas and toast, stirring frequently, for another 2 minutes or so.

Add tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Stir in all remaining spices and check seasoning, adding more of your favorite spices if desired.

Whisk in cream and return to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently.

Source: Savory Sweet Spicy

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ground Turkey and Spinach Stuffed Shells

We tried to start weekly meal planning last week, but it didn't end up working out. I have kind of gotten out of the meal planning since the CSA ended, so hopefully this will help us get back into it. Last weekend I spent some time planning and then I went to the grocery store and got the ingredients for two weeknight meals. We will see how it goes this week and hopefully we get a better idea of how many meals we need to make each week to keep our leftovers stocked for the week. The first meal of the week was these stuffed shells. I made these last winter without the meat and we both really liked them. I think that I almost prefer them vegetarian style, but the ground turkey version was good as well.

Stuffed Shells

Ground Turkey and Spinach Stuffed Shells

1 12-oz. package jumbo pasta shells
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
1 lb. ground turkey OR Italian sausage, casings removed
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 15-oz. container ricotta cheese
6-7 oz. fresh spinach, chopped OR 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil or 1 tsp. dried basil
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 28-oz. can chopped tomatoes with herbs, including the liquid

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta shells according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the ground turkey or sausage to the pan, breaking it into smaller pieces as it cooks. Cook until the ground turkey or sausage is completely cooked through and no pink remains, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg, ricotta, spinach, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, basil, bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Stir together to combine. Add the cooked ground turkey or sausage mixture to the bowl and stir until evenly mixed.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spread a thin layer of the chopped tomatoes in the baking dishes (one 9×13″ or two 8 x 8"). Stuff each shell with some of the sausage and cheese mixture, and arrange in the baking dishes, open side up. Spread the remaining tomatoes over the top of the pasta shells.

Cover the pans with foil and bake for 30 minutes, until hot and bubbling. Remove foil and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 10 more minutes

Source: Annie's Eats

Stuffed Shells

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mini Corn Dogs

We have have cornmeal from our CSA since the beginning of the summer and we have been talking about making corn dogs for that long so tonight we finally made them. It didn't take that long to get all the corn dogs battered. It would be even quicker if you made actual corn dogs and not the mini version. I also don't think you would have as many issues getting the batter to stick as you would have the handle to hold on to. We still have some cornmeal left so we are going to attempt regular sized corn dogs in the future.

Corn Dogs

Mini Corn Dogs

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup white sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 package little smokies
cornstarch or flour for rolling little smokies in

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine muffin mix, flour, egg, milk and butter to make a very thick batter. Roll little smokies in cornstarch or flour to help batter stick. Moisten your hands with water then roll the batter around one of the little smokies to cover it entirely. Transfer to prepared baking sheet as done then repeat process with remaining batter and hot dogs.

Bake until golden brown and batter is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to plates and serve with ketchup and mustard on the side.

Source: Adapted from Whole Foods and All Recipes

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Last summer we planted a garden and I canned tomatoes. All summer we enjoyed the vegetables we produced and this winter it has been great to add our canned tomatoes to our cooking. The whole process of producing your own food, makes me really appreciate my grandparents way of living.

My Grandma T really enjoyed both her flower and vegetable garden. We may be more similar than I ever realized. We also both enjoy cooking and baking. Grandma was always making cookies or bran muffins, or both. From seventh grade until I was able to drive I spent a lot of time at grandma and grandpa's house. They only lived 5 blocks from school so after volleyball, basketball or golf practice I would always walk there and wait for my mom or dad to pick me up. I didn't appreciate it at the time, but I am glad that I was able to spend all that time with them then. Grandma & Grandpa had 17 other grandchildren, so I was lucky to be able to spend so much time with them alone. Sometimes we would eat dinner together and sometimes we would just have a snack, either way I always got to spend time with them almost everyday for a few years.

Last Sunday my 96 year old grandma died peacefully after a long struggle with Alzheimer's. Today she was laid to rest and is now at peace and able to reunite with my grandfather in heaven.

Here is a picture of me and my grandma. I think I was probably around nine months old.

Sara and Grandma

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Herb Rubbed Grilled Chicken with Creamy Orzo

On Sunday night during the Packer's disappointing loss to the Arizona Cardinals I made this pasta for dinner. It was really pretty simple and we both loved it. It didn't take too long to prepare so we will definitely making variations of this in the future.

Herb Rubbed Grilled Chicken with Creamy Orzo

Herb Rubbed Grilled Chicken with Creamy Orzo

8 oz. orzo pasta, uncooked
2 chicken breasts, butterflied into halves (4 pieces total)
Salt and pepper
2 tsp. Herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, with juices
2 cups broccoli florets
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a saucepan of salted water to boil. Add the orzo and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, about 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water.

Season both sides of the chicken breast halves with salt and pepper. Sprinkle evenly with the Herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning. Heat the olive oil in a 12- or 14-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken breast halves to the pan and cook about 3 minutes per side, until golden brown.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the shallot to the pan and sauté 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté an additional minute, until fragrant. Add the diced tomatoes with juices and the broccoli florets to the pan, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove any browned bits. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer over medium-low. Cover and let cook until the broccoli florets are crisp-tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the cooked orzo, heavy cream and Parmesan cheese. Mix until well blended and the cheese has melted. If necessary, add some of the reserved pasta water to smooth out the sauce.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Source: Annie's Eats

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pasta e Fagioli

We have been eating tacos and sandwiches for the last few days, so last night after our sandwiches I made up this soup for lunches and leftovers. This was a great way to use up some leftover vegetables we had in the fridge. I made our soup pretty thick, so I only added 2 cups of beef broth, but you could add more broth depending on what type of consistency you like your soup.

Pasta Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli

2 tbsp. butter, divided
1 lb. ground turkey or chicken
1/2 large (or 1 medium) onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 carrots, thinly sliced
4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
16 oz. reduced-sodium beef broth (depending on how much liquid you would like)
2 (8 oz.) cans tomato sauce
2 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. salt
4 oz. small dry pasta (such as ditalini)

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a Dutch oven or large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the ground turkey to the pot and brown, crumbling as it cooks. Once the ground turkey is browned, remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon and discard any excess grease.

Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the pot. Add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery, and saute over medium heat until vegetables are soft, 8-10 minutes. Return the turkey to the pot, add the can of diced tomatoes with juices, stir briefly, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the beans, beef broth and tomato sauce to the pot. Add in all of the seasonings, stir well, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer at least 30 minutes.

Add the dry pasta and continue to simmer on low for another 30 minutes. Serve.

Adapted from: Annie's Eats

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Baby Sam - New Hope Newborn Photographer

Last fall I started a new venture by taking portraits of some family and friends for their Christmas cards. In December, I launched the Pear Tree Photography website And yesterday, I had my first official session for Pear Tree Photography and the lucky guy was an 18 day old little boy named Sam. It was a lot of fun and I look forward to many more sessions in the future. Here are my favorites from the session.

Baby Sam

Baby Sam

Baby Sam

Baby Sam

Baby Sam

Baby Sam

Friday, January 1, 2010

Murder at the Juice Joint

For New Year's Eve this year Shanna really wanted to have a Murder Mystery party. She has been talking about doing this for ages, so Murder Mystery it was. We ordered the kit from an online site Night of Mystery. It was really easy to plan and everything was very well organized. I used an evite to determine who was attending, then I send them invitations via e-mail with their character information. Everything was included in the kit we ordered, I just had to cut out name tags and assemble an envelope for each character. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to add little bit of drama to the same old party.

We chose the Murder at the Juice Joint mystery, which took place in a 1920's speakeasy. Everyone did a great job of dressing up and playing their characters. Here we are all are in action.

Murder at the Juice Joint

The group picture. Standing: Adam, Maran, Jeff, Kate, Elysia, Nick, Kasie, Patrick, Le, Ty & Shanna. Seated: Sara, Heather, David & Jachin.

Murder Mystery Group Picture